A movie with four female protagonists seems very feminist on the offset, but this isn’t the case with “Veere Di Wedding”, starting Swara Bhasker, Shikha Talsania, Sonam Kapoor Ahuja, and Kareena Kapoor Khan in title roles. The movie intended to be a commercial success eventually embraced the only thing that could salvage it despite having an all-female cast – making it all about men. The movie isn’t about these four characters and their lives; it’s about the men in their lives and only about that.
Every conversation, every plot-point, every backstory, is associated with men these women either date, marry or have sex with. They do not own the movie, these men do.
A movie about four women, women said to be independent, empowered, and strong, yet their lives revolve around men. Sonam Kapoor, a passionate lawyer who seems rather good at her job only aspires to be someone’s wife and mother, her career is pushed to the background, and her storyline revolves exclusively around her attempt to find a groom. What Kareena Kapoor does for a living isn’t even mentioned, she lives in Australia, and that’s all we know about her. Shikha Talsania is probably a housewife living with her American husband and the child she had with him; her family has disowned her for the wedding. Swara Bhasker is a woman with wealthy parents, who is going through a divorce.
Surprisingly – or maybe, rather unsurprisingly for Bollywood – the movie does not feature one conversation between the women that isn’t about men or marriage.
This isn’t a tale of friendship or life, this is a tale about four women and their men and only their men, as though, that’s all there is to their lives.
The movie, also, like most Bollywood movies, resorts to tired stereotypes, especially about gay men. The usual gay stereotypes that Bollywood promotes were present throughout the film, a gay man who uses excessive hand gestures, nods a little too much, is passionate about female fashion, and has a ridiculously exaggerated accent. With every movie, we constantly push the idea of men who identify as gay ‘behaving gay’ or ‘looking gay’ or having ‘gay personalities’. Gay men in Hindi movies are loud, feminine, detached from reality, a stereotype we blatantly and carelessly promote, without once considering its implications on the lives of real gay men.
It isn’t just gay men who are wronged in this movie, though. The movie takes a very toxic attitude towards men in general. In a scene where Sonam Kapoor’s character attempts to kiss a man, and he declines and leaves, Swara Bhasker’s character says he must be gay if he passed on a kiss from a woman. Men as horny people who will never pass on sex, whether consensual or not is a widely accepted notion. Men are ridiculed on screen and in life for passing on sex or anything sexual and even for not taking pleasure in sexual abuse or coerced sexual activity.
Although, the film does have some refreshing moments between its carefully constructed plot, built this way to guarantee a commercial success. The women openly discuss sex, they swear like most of us do, and drink when surrounded by people, as well, and wear whatever they desire. This has received severe criticism, with people saying women don’t have to speak about sex, swear, smoke or drink to be empowered, but what they fail to see is, this isn’t about empowerment, this is about reality. These women don’t drink or swear to seem empowered; they do it because that’s what real women like us do. We discuss sex, swear, and some of us drink or smoke, and it was pleasant to see female characters in a film doing this instead of subscribing to the idea of what a good woman should do according to patriarchal standards.
Another revolutionary aspect of this film is Swara Bhasker’s character. She is seen masturbating in a scene, a scene that is very vivid, prolonged, and not subtle in the least. It wasn’t a passing mention or a fleeting moment. Although, in spite of the progressive nature of the scene, its portrayed as something she does out of utter desperation and in the prolonged absence of a sex life, this justification for a woman embracing the fact that she is a sexual being and sexually pleasing herself, kills the momentum of the scene and completely takes away from it. An unprecedented and even empowering scene seen in a film for the first time, sending out a message of owning and controlling our bodies and our sexuality, is completely ruined by this unnecessary justification.
In spite of this, it is Swara Bhasker’s character who single-handedly salvages the movie, that is, if it has been salvaged at all. Usually, a character like that of Bhasker’s will be the bad woman in a Bollywood movie. She will be the antagonist; she will be the woman that will ask us to root for the protagonist just because she is the polar opposite of her. But, not in “Veere Di Wedding”. We root for Swara Bhasker’s character as much as we root for the other three leads. Her character is an alcoholic, who dresses as she pleases, talks sex, swears, and has complete control over her life and never once attempts to be the women she isn’t, only to be the poster-child of the good woman patriarchy demands.
Though it’s a shame, that even today, we can’t expect a story about women to be a commercial success and have to ultimately make it about men. This movie could have been what it claimed to be if it really would be about these four women if it really would be their story if it really would be about their life and being. A movie with an all-female cast fails the Bechdel Test, which isn’t too shocking for a Bollywood movie. Although by allowing these women to speak of sex, swear, and dress, as they please and considering what they did with Swara Bhasker’s character, is revolutionary and unprecedented, between all the rightful criticism, we need to remember that this is to be celebrated and still is a rather small, but significant victory.